Petite Maman (2022)
Directed by Céline Sciamma
Starring Joséphine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Stéphane Varupenne and Nina Meurisse
Simple, quaint, effervescent and beautiful. No, I am not describing myself, I am describing Petite Maman.
No need for blustery preamble, no need for detailed explanations about the fantastical things that are happening, and most importantly: no teary-eyed monologues hoping to strike Oscar gold. Petite Maman tells a precise, compact story about the connection between love and grief. It’s so beautifully shot and acted that, when the short 72-minute runtime ends, sneaking back into your AMC should be allowed, because as Nicole Kidman so eloquently says “heartbreak feels good in a place like this.” (Lucky for you Petit Maman is now available on Hulu so you won’t have to break the law!)
Céline Sciamma’s previous film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), was a critical darling that won a host of awards. These accolades should be shared with cinematographer Claire Mathon, who also teamed up with Sciamma on Petit Maman. Both films have a mist covered-quality that is not only beautiful, but eerie. The movement of the characters in and out of frame in well-structured static shots are what elevate Mathon’s art in other films she’s shot like Atlantics (2019) and Spencer (2021). I hope we get a third film from this pair of collaborators.
I also hope we get to see more from the young sibling actors who carry Petit Maman, Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz. The pair handle complicated subject matter (loss and grief) and interesting situations with the skill of much more experienced actors. This is the first film for the siblings, who act mainly alongside each other and Stéphane Varupenne who plays their father. Varupenne does a great job letting the sisters be themselves and demonstrate a joy and comfort on screen that only seems possible between actual siblings. Nina Meurisse rounds out the cast as the mother of the family, displaying a range of emotions in a subtle and realistic way during her limited screen time.
Petit Maman has the spirit of classics like Spirit of The Beehive (1973) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). Like these classics, Petite Maman will sedate you with its ethereal visuals and sparse audio. By the time you realize how entranced you are, it will be over and you may want to watch it again immediately. If Sciamma’s last film was a B+ then her latest film is an A-.